Devon, PA. Newsweek listed Grand Rapids as one of America’s top-ten dying cities sometime ago. This prompted the city to come together in a rather inspired way to film a ten-minute, one-camera-shot lip-synch music video that bobs and weaves through the downtown area while thousands of Grand Rapidians sing along. The technical achievement alone makes it worth a look (my daughter found the timing of fireworks set off on a distant bridge to correspond with the lyrics especially pleasing). But there is something gorgeous about the whole project. ABC’s report on the film and its background can be read here. But what really commands attention is the video itself, which, in its appropriation of Don McLean, makes a worthy intervention in Bill Kauffman’s discussion of the official FPR anthem.
Given Newsweek’s criteria, it was easy enough to believe Grand Rapids could be considered a dying city. Those of us from the Great Lakes states experience in a particular way that American pathology of equating material success with getting as far away from home as possible. And those of us who stayed put (or tried to) are aware of the conditions that entails, not least of which is a sense of cultural defeatism that seems to make every effort at local revival at best a mild success.
Having said that, I find myself surprised to think of Grand Rapids in those terms. From the time I was old enough to drive, I thought of that city as a model: walkable, full of good restaurants, minor league sports, and music; buoyed but not dominated by a large university; and politically, in line with the surrounding countryside (in contrast from, say, Ann Arbor, which is a better city still in most respects, save for its incomplete domination by the campus culture and its total domination by the expiring liberalism of the ‘sixties and the academic nihilism of the present).
Some of my happiest memories are of nights out with my (then-future) in-laws and bride at the restaurants of Grand Rapids — several of which are smart enough to vend bottles of Wyncroft from their cellar. Indeed, on one occasion long ago, a snow storm set in just as we were finishing a round of martinis at one local watering hole. The owner invited us back to his house and put us up for the night — which ended up being one of the first old colonial houses built in the state.
I suppose pleasant and dying are not mutually exclusive. I shall raise a glass to Grand Rapids’ health, when I visit this July.